Pep Guardiola expects more 'top quality' stars to join Saudi Pro League

Manchester City manager says football landscape is changing and clubs need to be aware of it

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said not many expected so many top players to move to Saudi football. EPA
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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said on Saturday that the Saudi Pro League had "completely changed the market" and he expects more high-profile players to move to the kingdom in the future.

Portuguese great Cristiano Ronaldo was the first global name to move to Saudi as the country made its first major move in the quest to become one of the top football destinations in the world.

Since then, superstars like Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante, Ruben Neves and many others have migrated to the Middle East.

On Friday, Manchester City's veteran winger Riyad Mahrez became the latest big name to move to Saudi, joining Al Ahli on a deal that runs until 2027.

Algerian international Mahrez joined Al Ahli for a fee understood to be worth up to £30 million. Bayern Munich's Sadio Mane also looked poised to join the exodus.

For Guardiola, this has become the new norm.

"The Saudi league completely changed the market," Guardiola was quoted as saying by AFP in Seoul on the eve of City's friendly with Atletico Madrid.

Top Saudi Pro League signings

"A year ago when Cristiano Ronaldo was the first player, no one could imagine how many top, top quality, extraordinary players were going to play in the Saudi league.

"In the future, it will happen more and more and that’s why clubs need to be aware of what is happening."

Saudi football also tried to rope in Argentine great Lionel Messi before he moved to Major League Soccer in the US. They are still trying to sign the best footballer in the world - Kylian Mbappe - with a world-record offer of €300m, even though a deal seems unlikely.

While City bid goodbye to Mahrez, they also saw defender Nathan Ake extend his contract with the club to 2027.

The Netherlands international has prolonged his previous deal by two years, committing himself to the Etihad Stadium outfit for a further four seasons.

Ake was an integral member of Guardiola's squad during City's memorable treble-winning 2022-23 campaign, making 41 appearances in all competitions.

The 28-year-old said: "This is the best club in the world, I have no doubts about that. Being a Manchester City player makes me incredibly proud every single day.

"It's a football club that expects excellence in every area, which makes for the perfect environment to improve. It drives me on and makes me better. I am at the stage of my career where I want to keep developing and I can definitely do that here.

"Pep is the best manager in football - a genius who has made me see the game differently - so to be able to work with him for longer is a real privilege. I am so grateful to him for everything he has done for me, both personally and professionally."

Updated: September 25, 2023, 8:46 AM